February 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW3

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Using Qualitative Research Methods to Explore the Extension/Judicial Partnership in Indiana

In a time of limited resources, communities are turning to collaborations and partnerships with other organizations to provide services for children, youth, and families-at-risk. Evaluating such community programs can prove challenging. This article presents qualitative research methods used to evaluate one collaborative effort. The Community Systemwide Response Initiative in Indiana partners Extension personnel and judges with juvenile court jurisdiction. A discussion is provided on the benefits and challenges of using qualitative research methods in multi-site collaborative youth-at-risk programs.

Mary Pilat
Assistant Professor /Extension Specialist
4-H Youth Department
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana
Internet address: mp@four-h.purude.edu

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service since 1991 has been involved with a special project which partners Juvenile Court judges and Extension educators at the local community level. A county Extension educator and a Circuit Court judge saw a need for such cooperation in order to address the needs of today's youth and families.

Together they developed a training package for community teams of an Extension educator, the judge with juvenile court jurisdiction, and other law enforcement and human service personnel. Each team participated in two three-day training sessions, assessed community needs, conducted community information sessions, and developed and implemented plans of action to address alcohol and substance abuse issues and other juvenile issues identified by the assessment process.

Twenty-four Indiana communities have been involved in this joint program known as the Indiana Community Systemwide Response (CSR)Initiative. Funding in support of this initiative has come through a variety of sources including the Zamola Extension Home Economics Study Fellowship, Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Association, National 4-H Council, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Purdue 4-H Department, Purdue Consumer & Family Sciences Extension, and Indiana Department of Transportation.

As a result of the CSR Initiative in Indiana, local community teams have generated various levels of community and organizational involvement in juvenile justice issues and developed local community action plans. Efforts to evaluate the CSR project have been challenging because of this variety.

As Knapp (1995) points out, evaluating partnerships focusing on community wide programs to addressing the needs of youth and their families can be very challenging. "The difficulty for those who wish to study comprehensive, collaborative services, however labeled, stems from their complexity and flexibility, the nature of collaborative effort, and the convergence of different disciplines. Complexity derives from the sheer number of players, stakeholders, and levels of the system, as multiple services lodged in different agency or disciplinary contexts, each operating form its own premises about good practice and the 'client' or 'consumer' , join forces in some fashion to influence the life prospects of high risk families and children."


Given the complexity of the CSR Initiative qualitative research methods were used to explore the judicial/Extension partnership and resultant community development activities. Data were gathered through (a) the principal investigator's participant observations of planning and training sessions, (b) informal interviews with project personnel, local Extension educators, judges with juvenile jurisdiction, probation officers and other law enforcement personnel, (c) discussions with focus groups composed of judicial and educational experts, and practitioners, and (d) a review of reports and documents.

Information was collated and analyzed through the development of categories. As themes emerged, participants were asked to reflect on accuracy and to provide additional clarification and insight.


Through the use of qualitative research methods, themes emerged around (a) the importance of the judicial/extension partnership; (b) the resultant programs and benefits of the partnership; and (c) program evaluation and assessment issues.

Importance of the Judicial/Extension partnership

The judiciary and Extension Service partnership provides leadership and acts as a catalyst for communities to develop creative opportunities that strengthen protective factors for youth and families. Each partner brings complementary assets to the partnership, benefiting both.

Members of the judiciary bring the following assets to the partnership: (a) Judges refer juveniles and families to Extension programs, (b) judges identify their own training needs to enhance their understanding of child and family development, (c) judiciary gains awareness of existing Extension programs and the potential of accessing the land grant university system, (d) judicial power convenes public meetings and conveys importance of community issues, (e) judges identify gaps in services for children, youth, and families from an overview of community perspectives.

Extension educators enhance the partnership through the following assets: (a) Extension provides existing programs to new clientele, (b) Extension provides training for judicial personnel, (c) Extension gains awareness of the judiciary system and program opportunities., (d) Extension provides facilitation and community planning expertise, (e) Extension provides resource information, training, and creates new programs when appropriate, based on access to the Land-Grant university system.

Building and maintaining the judicial/Extension partnership has proved challenging. Workloads of both judges and/or Extension educators are the most cited barrier to collaboration. However, one of the greatest challenges has been overcoming the organizational language, institutional cultures and professional biases of each group. Time spent "getting to know each other" was crucial to building successful partnerships.

In communities where the judge or the Extension educator was not actively involved in the joint training program, the communities failed to develop action plans. Despite these challenges, the effort benefits the partnership as well as communities and statewide organizations.


The judicial/Extension partnership in Indiana has resulted in benefits at local and state levels. At the local level there was (a) an increase in the number of collaborations and referral networks associated with juvenile justice issues, (b) increased awareness of community problems, (c)increased funding for programs, (d) policy changes, (e) issue specific program development and implementation.

At the state level the CSR initiative has resulted in : (a) increased statewide collaborations and referral networks, (b) identification of research need, (c) identification of training needs for the judiciary and Extension personnel, (d) identification of program needs, (e) increased funding.

Representatives from 32 organizations and/or legal professions were involved in local community activities. As a result of the networking and collaborative efforts of the judicial/Extension partnership, communities reported an increase in public awareness of community problems. Community meetings addressing the needs of youth were held in 10 counties, generating newspaper and radio coverage. Communities responded to increased awareness of community issues by developing and implementing programs to meet their specific needs, securing increased funding for identified projects, and changing community policies around juvenile justice issues. Examples of these activities include:

  • Nine communities conducted community needs assessments.
  • A 4-H club was established for juvenile offenders. The judge assigned the juveniles to the club where specifically trained leaders worked with the youth.
  • An eight-week training course for serious juvenile offenders was created and implemented. Volunteers were Indiana State Police officers who received training to work with youth. To date, 43 youth have participated and only 8 have returned to court for minor offenses.
  • A $22,000 grant for a teen center was received and an alternative school established.
  • Over 5450 students attended school convocations on drunk driving entitled "You Think You Have Troubles Now"
  • A judge serves on a local Cooperative Extension Board.
  • Open container bans were passed in two townships.
  • BABES - Beginning Alcohol and Addictions Basic Education Series was initiated in three elementary schools.
  • Funding for a "Body Safety" program was obtained and the program was initiated in the schools. Over 70 adults and 5,000 students have participated.
  • A program for first time offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 was developed by an Extension educator at the juvenile judge's request. "Facing the F.A.C.T. (Final Attempt at Correctional Turnabout)" has reached over 150 youth with only 3 reappearing before the judge.

These examples demonstrate how the judicial/Extension partnership leads to community action and increased services to youth and families.

On the state level the judicial/Extension partnership has resulted in increased collaboration between Extension and the judiciary and among statewide organizations such as the Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, Indiana State Police, Healthy Families Indiana. This networking and collaboration has led to funding for training additionaljudicial/extension teams.

In addition, a series of retreats and training opportunities for judicial/Extension team members has led to the identification of research issues, training needs, and programmatic concerns which provide the basis for state level initiatives. For example, a parenting program for teen fathers is being developed at the state level in direct response to judicial concerns.

The Extension state staff responsible for the judicial/Extension initiative known as the Indiana Community Systemwide Response Project continue to assess and respond to the needs of the growing number of judicial personnel and extension educators involved in the local partnerships. The ongoing need for assessment and program evaluation at both the state and local levels has been one of the greatest challenges to emerge as a result of this qualitative research study.

Program Evaluation and Assessment Issues

Throughout this study it became apparent that both the local communities and the state initiative struggled with program evaluation and assessment. This difficulty is based on two characteristics inherent in the process of the judicial/Extension partnership. At the state level, the grassroots nature of local initiatives made comparisons among partnerships extremely difficult. Because each judicial/Extension partnership focused on a different community problem related to juvenile justice issues, evaluation efforts were focused on evidence of (a) collaborations, (b) the community development process, and (c) progress towards the goals set by the local communities with the leadership of the judicial/extension partnership.

At the community level, local Extension educators are continually responding to the needs of the judiciary and the community by engaging in on-going, up-to-the-minute assessment and evaluation. However, this assessment was often conducted mentally and not documented. Changes in programs, training opportunities, meeting procedures, among others, continued throughout the study. When pressed for criteria upon which the changes were being made, the Extension educator could readily articulate the criteria. Informal evaluations and assessments were on-going and immediately responsive to changing conditions in the community. This "evaluation on the run" often serves the Extension educator well by allowing quick response to community needs. However, from the formal evaluation perspective, keeping track of this type of evaluation is difficult at the least.

The grassroots nature of Extension programming and up-to-the -minute, but undocumented, program evaluation conducted by the local communities are on-going evaluation concerns that became apparent during this study.


Through the use of qualitative research methods, the Indiana judicial/Extension partnership has been explored. What emerged is some evidence of a strong partnership that has benefited, and continues to benefit, local communities, and children, youth, and families. In addition, this study points out the continued difficulty of documenting impacts and successes of community- specific collaborative efforts focused on improving the lives of young people and their families.

In Indiana, the use of qualitative research methods in evaluating the CSR project has proven useful in describing and clarifying the local judicial/extension partnership. It is hoped that continued use of this methodology in evaluating the CSR project will generate additional information on the complex community processes involved in community-wide initiatives on behalf of children, youth, and families.


Knapp, M. (1995). How shall we study comprehensive collaborative services for children and families. Educational Researcher, 24 (4), 5-16